Learning Memory & Learning

Lucid Dreaming

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Ever had one of those dreams where you suddenly become aware that you’re dreaming and you’re able to (for a short time) control your dreams?

This is called lucid dreaming and is a major feature in the film Inception.

Most of the time when you’re dreaming, you have no idea and you just go along with the odd situations that you find yourself in – often rapidly changing and seemingly random – though they don’t seem so while you’re sleeping.

What if while you were dreaming, you were able to “wake” yourself and realise that you are in fact dreaming? While we dream our sub-conscious minds are in full control and so being in control while in this state gives you access to the incredible creative resources of your sub-conscious.

Lucid dreaming is when you become aware that you are dreaming, WHILE you’re dreaming. This empowers you to influence the content of your dreams. Luckily, lucid dreaming is a skill you can develop, giving you much more control over your dreams.

Why is this important?

Aside from imposing temporary paralysis so we don’t physically act out our dreams, our brains don’t distinguish between dreams and reality. Thoughts and actions that occur during dreams are treat by your brain as though they are actually happening.

This means that any actions that would strengthen neural pathways while you’re awake, will trigger the same response during sleep. Additionally, you’re brain is more susceptible to these neural changes during REM sleep – your brain is able to adapt more while you are asleep.

While we dream our subconscious minds are in full control and so being in control while in this state gives you access to the incredible creative resources of your subconscious.

You are able to generate ideas and potentially solve problems much quicker and with greater creativity than during your waking state. Also, when we sleep, our perception of time is skewed and we experience time as being 44% longer – essentially giving us more time to dream.

Dream control and dream awareness are connected, but you aren’t required to know that you’re dreaming in order to exert control, conversely, being aware that you’re dreaming doesn’t always give you control.

Lucid dreaming offers us a big opportunity – if you are able to control your dreams, then you can practice and learn during your sleep.

Step 1 – Remembering Your Dreams

Focus for a few moments on the dream and try to remember as much as possible, then write everything down – situations, companions, images, sounds and even feelings. When you first start recording your dreams, the details will be sparse and vague.

Step 2 – Analysing Your Dreams

Once you’ve been recording your dreams for a few weeks, read through the pages of your journal and try to identify any recurring themes. I don’t mean from a Freudian analysis involving being chased or nightmares – but elements that are always present when you dream.

For a lot of people, it’s almost impossible to tell the time in a dream. If you look at a clock or a watch you’ll find that it will change each time you look at it.

This is the same for anything written down. The words in books, letters and magazines will change, be difficult to read and probably not make any sense.

If you spot this, you can almost be sure that you’re dreaming.

Step 3 – Reality Checks

A few common reality checks are seeing if you can:

  • Breathe underwater
  • Breathe with your mouth or nose covered
  • See through closed eyes

Once you become aware of your dreams, you will begin to slowly wake up and then your control over the dream slips. I find that breathing deeply (while dreaming) when this starts to happen can help me to stay asleep.

Reality checks are small tests you can perform while awake and dreaming which can tell you that whether what you’re experiencing is reality or imagination. Certain things just aren’t possible in real life, but occur often in dreams.

  • Breathe with your mouth or nose covered.
  • See through closed eyes. Closing your eyes in a dream usually has no effect on your vision.
  • Read a book, magazine or clock. The words and numbers will change in a dream and you’ll find that you can’t actually read them.

It’s important to carry out these checks when you’re awake and doing routine tasks. When you’re asleep, you can’t consciously choose to carry out the checks because at that stage, you’ve no idea you’re not awake. By performing these checks throughout your day, you train your mind to do it regularly and you’ll soon find yourself doing it  spontaneously in dreams.

Step 4 – Staying Asleep

Once you become aware of your sleeping state, your dreams will begin to break down and you will begin to slowly wake up. When this happens you’ll find that your control over the dream slips. I find that breathing deeply (while dreaming) when this starts to happen can help me to stay asleep for a little while longer.

Step 5 – Enjoy and Learn

Now you’re asleep and have full, on-demand access to the most creative areas of your mind. Use this time to come up with creative solutions, ideas or to practice a skill. Remember, the brain doesn’t distinguish between actions taken during sleep or wakefulness – you’ll get the full benefit as though you’d practiced while awake.

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